There's no bigger business at
than printing. But when the company reports its second-quarter earnings after the close of trading on Tuesday, Wall Street won't be watching that 800-pound gorilla.
That's not easy, considering how much effort HP has put into highlighting its imaging business lately. Late last month, the company unveiled a number of new printing appliances that CEO Carly Fiorina boasted would capitalize on what will be a $100 billion "Internet ecosystem" by 2004. Reflecting that focus, HP has recently formed alliances with firms like
, the last of which will help HP develop and market digital systems that will let users print directly from AT&T's upcoming Broadband Interactive TV system.
HP's near death grip on the printing business -- figures from
show it holding 50.8% of the worldwide printing market last year -- has many observers taking for granted the company's ability to perform in that ecosystem. In fact, most are ready to take it for granted, thereby freeing themselves to focus on dicier areas of the business.
"I think they'll just continue to execute there," says Mona Eraiba, analyst at
, who rates HP an outperform and whose firm has no underwriting relationship with HP. "But the key focus now is to find out what's happening to the server market. That's an area that should be doing very well over the next few years."
HP is one of a number of firms, including
, releasing new products in an attempt to make inroads into the Unix server market. But gaining share in a space where
has achieved extremely strong momentum could be difficult.
Analysts are concerned about more than just market share; there's also the matter of profit margins, something that's not a problem for the company's printing business. Imaging and printing made up just 44% of 1999 sales, but thanks to extremely handsome profit margins on printing "consumables" like ink and toner cartridges, that same segment represented about 61% of its earnings.
The only thing that worries Wall Street about those numbers is what they imply about the rest of the business.
"For years, HP's strength in its printer business has masked weaknesses in other segments like PCs and servers," says Kurt King, analyst at
Banc of America
, which has no underwriting relationship with the company. "Now, with segment reporting, the weaknesses in the computer business are a lot clearer." King rates the stock a buy.
One thing that's clearer is that margins in the company's computing businesses have been much less stellar. Computing systems made up 43% of HP's revenue last quarter, but just 22% of its earnings. Listeners to Tuesday night's conference
call will be anxious to hear how margins are improving -- particularly in the company's PC segment. Slowing long-term PC sales have made for a rather hostile pricing environment among the boxmakers fighting for market share. Thin margins could offset any dramatic increase in consumer PC sales that HP gets from IBM and
withdrawal from the U.S. retail channel.
Forget the imaging business. HP needs a well-rounded report to help it remain one of the market's more stable computer hardware stocks. Despite the bloodletting through much of the
, HP is still up 10% on the year.